Photo by Eitan Elhadez-Barak/TPS on 15 October, 2023

Sderot’s Residents Return Home With Mix of Hope And Anxiety

Public By Sveta Listratov • 26 February, 2024

Jerusalem, 26 February, 2024 (TPS) -- Four months after Hamas attacked Sderot, residents of the city are returning to their homes.

“At first, I thought we were not coming back until there is total security restored in the town. But eventually, we accepted that there are no magic solutions. Obviously, it’s still scary, but it’s a process,” mother of five Dafna Levi told the Tazpit Press Service.

“Ultimately, this is our home, and we declare that despite all challenges, we are here to stay,” said Levi, whose children range in age from one-and-a-half to 13 years old.

“Right now, I don’t see myself visiting a regular playground with the kids, but maybe the protected playground is a solution for now. Even on the way to the grocery store, you look towards the nearby bomb shelters.”

On the morning of October 7, the rocket barrages caused power outages, Levi recalled. They spent the first days of the war with relatives but eventually moved into a hotel in Jerusalem with other evacuees.

During the Battle of Sderot, 50 civilians and 20 security personnel were killed.

Sderot, accustomed to rocket fire since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, is equipped with specially protected spaces. Most municipal buildings, including a 3,000-square-foot indoor recreation center for children, have been fortified.

Unfortunately, the indoor playground was damaged by a rocket in the early days of the war. After nearly five months of desertion, Jewish National Fund-USA volunteers from the U.S. cleaned the center and prepared it for reopening, to welcome back returning children for safe play.

The playground, adapting its programming to meet the needs of the community, will host resilience workshops and therapeutic groups.

“We used to have 450 visitors a week, so returning to the center is integral to returning home. The center serves the residents of Sderot as well as the entire region. We are here to give parents a breather and children a childhood,” said Sarit Meneshko, the center’s director.

Moshe Zeev Pizem, a Chabad rabbi in Sderot, was excited to see the families coming back to town.

“In the past few weeks, you can clearly sense the city coming back to life. New stores are opening, and neighbors are returning with their children. It’s a very joyous atmosphere,” he told TPS.

Rabbi Pizem steadfastly remained in Sderot with his family, facing numerous challenges. The rabbi made it his mission to offer support and assistance to the few thousand residents and military personnel who were unable to evacuate.

“It’s a significant trauma for the residents. We’ve experienced challenging days here with power outages and rocket shelling, which was very frightening. I can empathize with those who may not feel comfortable returning home just yet,” the rabbi said.

Last week, Rabbi Pizem, in collaboration with Chabad Sderot, organized an event for residents featuring music, food, entertainment and horseback rides. Expecting a few dozen children at most, the turnout surprised him as hundreds participated.

“There was a family that came just to enjoy the event with the kids, as they were still too anxious to come back. But then, as they met their neighbors and friends, it strengthened them, and they decided to come back home for good,” Rabbi Pizem said.

“We have a mission here to protect the land, and for this, we have to be present,” Rabbi Pizem explains. “So, it’s very important to keep life here. Children need to know that they have a home which is a safe place to be. I am sure that the town will not only return to what it was but will grow largely, as after such a disaster, we can only expect a remarkable improvement.”

In the aftermath of the harrowing attack on Sderot by Hamas terrorists on October 7, the town’s residents are reclaiming their city. The assault claimed the lives of at least 50 people and left dozens wounded, prompting the evacuation of the entire population to safer areas. Now, nearly five months later, they are returning home.